YARBROUGH COLUMN: In defense of a Southern accent, y’all
Published 9:30 am Tuesday, June 6, 2023
Well, swat my hind with a melon rind! I just found out why I’m so slow-witted and eat my peas with a butterknife. It’s my Southern accent, y’all. I have just read a survey that those of us who live down here below the Mason-You-Know-Who line are thought by some who live where it snows ten months a year and all their buildings are rusted, to be less intelligent because of our slow way of talking.
Stephen Colbert, a liberal weenie on some late night TV show I have had the privilege of missing all these years, says when he was growing up in South Carolina, he decided he wasn’t going to have a Southern accent. As a child, he observed that Southerners were often depicted as being dumber than other characters on scripted television and, to avoid that stereotype, he taught himself to imitate the speech of American news anchors. Well, bless his sweet heart.
His views on how we talk is courtesy of a news release from Writing Tips Institute, where the editors may send me if I don’t start putting commas where they belong and don’t learn the difference between who and whom. Why the way we speak is of concern to an organization focused on how we write escapes me, but so does the difference between who and whom.
Writing Tips Institute says a recent survey of 3,000 job applicants found that over one-third (38%) say that they “soften” their regional twangs in their job interviews in an effort to make their accents more generalized, for fear of negative stereotypes. That tells me that 62%, or 1,860 applicants, say this is the way I talk and if y’all don’t like it, you can kiss my grits. According to their analysis, a Southern accent is defined as “unique due to its distinctive pronunciation of vowels and consonants, which is characterized by elongated vowels, a slower and more relaxed pace of speech and a tendency to drop the final “g” sound in words that end in – ‘ing’.” What I think all of this means is that talkin’ Southern ain’t as easy as we make it look.
The Writing Tips Institute might be interested to know that the Southern accent is also unique in our use of the word fixin’, which has nothing to do with repairing a squeaking chair. In the South, fixin’ is about planning, as in, “I’m fixin’ supper” or “I’m fixin’ to take Momma to church to play Bingo.” or “Watch it, buster. I’m fixin’ to take a skillet upside your head if you keep makin’ fun of the way I talk.”
Of particular interest to me in the survey was the observation that Georgians are among the most likely to hide their Southern accents.
In fact, 45% of job applicants with a Southern accent say they change the way they talk when applying for jobs. That says to me that 45% of the job applicants weren’t worth hiring in the first place because they have no self-respect. As my sweet Southern momma would say, “If brains were dynamite, they couldn’t blow their nose.”
I hate to poke a big hole in all that work that the Writing Tips Institute put into their survey talking about how talking Southern can be a career-impacting handicap (They claim a Southern accent could cost Georgians an average of 18% less salary upon hiring because we say things like, “howdy” and “well, glory be!”) because this ol’ Georgia boy made a right good livin’ and never tried to change the way I talked.
I spent a great deal of time in New York working with a number of consulting firms we had hired as well as supervising a staff in Washington for a number of years. When someone had the temerity to make a comment about my Southern accent, I quickly assured them that I spoke properly. They were the ones that had the accent. That, along with a stare that would melt a pile of bricks usually stopped that conversation in its tracks and allowed us to get on with our business.
As for a Southern accent being equated with low intelligence as snoots like Stephen Colbert would hypothesize, my daddy used to say that just because we talk slow, doesn’t mean we think slow.
The fact is we are smart enough to tell you what we want you to know when we are ready for you to know it. That sounds very intelligent to me, y’all.